3 Life Lessons Adaptive Students Teach Their Ski Instructors

03/27/2015 03:11 pm ET | Updated May 23, 2015

Every day is different if you are an adaptive ski instructor.

Names, faces, equipment and disabilities constantly vary and instructors need to be on their toes in order to keep up. But there's one thing that always remains the same: the learning curve. Surprisingly, we're not talking about the skills the student learns on the mountain. Rather, we're referencing the life lessons that adaptive instructors learn from their students.

PHOTO: Amber Tierney

1. We're In This Together
Life likes to throw us lemons, and it can be tough to remember that we don't need to battle this world alone. Alan Hammersmith, a third-year volunteer adaptive ski instructor at Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports, learned this recently from one of his students.

Sara*, a student with slight behavioral disabilities, arrived at Vermont Adaptive as a total newbie to winter sports. And as luck would have it, the beginner chair lift was broken on the day that Hammersmith took her up the mountain. Instead, the two of them hopped on a bigger chair lift and traversed over to the easier green trails.

PHOTO: Amber Tierney

Naturally, Sara struggled. Not only was she brand new to skiing, but she was also high up on the mountain with a ski instructor she had just met that morning. She fell down numerous times and Hammersmith began to worry that an emotional meltdown was coming. Fortunately, he remained calm, acknowledged her reasons for frustration and provided basic tips to help her navigate the scary hillside.

With Hammersmith's help, Sara began to get the hang of things. She learned to control her speed which automatically made the descent less terrifying. When they arrived at the base, Hammersmith prepared to take off his skis and head to the lodge with his student. But, lo and behold, Sara wanted to ski more! In fact, she was even attempting small jumps by the end of the day!

We all face tough decisions and scary circumstances on a daily basis, but it is helpful to know that you always have someone there to support you while you fall--even if it is a new person in your life!

PHOTO: Amber Tierney

2. Determination Will Get You Through This
When things take a turn for the worse, it is often easier to just give up. Throw in the towel. Call it a day. But rarely does that make the situation better, as Amber Tierney learned from one of her adaptive students.

Tierney began working with adaptive athletes when she was ten-years-old and has been with Vermont Adaptive for the past two seasons. However, it's one of her early lessons that stands out in her mind. As with Hammersmith, Tierney's student, Jennifer*, was new to winter sports and very uncomfortable on the mountain. She was nervous on her skis and grew discouraged every time she fell down. Yet despite her fears, Jennifer continued coming out every week and Tierney continued working with her.

Over time, Jennifer chipped away at her discomfort and grew to love skiing. These days, she is a fantastic skier and skis with her family since she no longer requires adaptive lessons. It would have been very easy for Jennifer to just quit when her nerves got the best of her or when that one big fall kind of hurt. However, she was determined to figure this two-plank world out and her determination guided her to success.

PHOTO: Amber Tierney

3. Be Thankful
More than anything, students teach adaptive instructors how to be thankful in life. "It is so inspiring to see people defy the odds of an injury or an illness every day," Tierney says. "I have learned to be thankful for what I have. Every person has their own challenges to overcome, and if they can do it, so can I."

*Names changed for privacy.